Written by Heather Smith on 24 February 2019
The online professional networking and recruitment site LinkedIn has released data, sourced from analysing recruitment listings on its site. It indicates that the Top Ten professional technical skills required by accountants for now and in the future the one similarity required is Communication.
Fortunately, technology, experts and education can help you improve your communication skills.
When it comes to technology, there are a few free or low-cost tools available, that are quite easy to navigate and use with minimal effort.
Grammarly is a proofreading tool that checks spelling and grammatical mistakes. The free or light version may be quite enough for your needs. As an abundant writer, I opt for the subscription version, which offers a few advanced features such as punctuation, sentence structure, vocabulary enhancements and genre-specific writing style checks. For example, as I write this, I can select ‘Business Article’ genre. It works on the Google Chrome browser, and within Microsoft Office and the Windows environment. You can define your language preference as Australian English.
Named after the renowned writer, Ernest Hemingway, the Hemingway App helps make your writing bold and clear. Remember when we went through education, and they wanted us to write long, convoluted sentences. The current trend is that we communicate at a readability age of around Grade 8. Short, simple sentences, so our clients understand the terminology and retain the information we’re trying to share with them. Using different shades, it highlights complicated sentences, adverbs, the use of passive voice, and suggests simpler alternatives. Editing occurs within the App, and shades reflect changes immediately. The online version, which I use, is free. There’s a desktop app available for purchase.
If I’m writing something, I write it within Microsoft Word with Grammarly activated, review and adopt suggestions I want to (not all of them I will). I then cut and paste the text and put it in Hemingway app and work through the suggestions there.
Zoom is a tool that enables real-time online meetings with clients. A meeting can be with one or many people – though, with the free versions, you’re restricted to 40-minute calls with multiple people. If your computer or laptop does not have an inbuilt microphone and web camera, you can buy one at a technology store starting at around $40. You’re able to screen share, so able to show someone how to do things on the screen or perhaps in the software or explain financial statements to them. By enabling the web camera, they can see you, so it is an easy way to have an in-person meeting, without the hassle and formality of a meeting.
Additional functionality includes the ability to record the video and conversation, so you share the recording, and they can review it at their own pace. This can be useful if you have a one on one training session, or perhaps other people associated with the client want to review the conversation. Plus, it integrates nicely with Google Calendar, so that you can create Zoom as the destination for a meeting. The free version of Zoom is quite robust, though there are various premium versions available starting at AU$20.99 p/m/host. The premium versions include additional functionality like a vanity URL, admin dashboard, and unlimited group meetings.
Loom found at UseLoom.com is like Zoom, in that it enables you to record both yourself and your screen. However it produces an online video with a hyperlink which you share with your client, and they can watch it in their own time, online. You could record some instructions or a response to a query. Furthermore, if there was a procedure you needed to share with many clients you could record a general information session and share the link with people, to watch. You’re notified when they watch it. Currently, this tool is free, with a premium version slated to be released.
Gorgias is a Google Chrome extension that creates text templates that you insert using short cuts. Thus they can be reused over and over again. For example, if you need to type out the same phrase or paragraph or explain something on a regular basis, you could create a short text template for it. For instance, if a potential client needs an ecommerce specialist, I have the details of the person I recommend, saved as a template. Because I’m using the same text repeatedly I take some time to ensure it fully explains everything in detail and minimises any confusion or any additional questions. A stitch in time saves nine. It works within most email programmes and LinkedIn. There is a free version which I use, and pricing starts at US$50 per month.
As the name suggests, Thesaurus.com is an online thesaurus which helps find the optimal word to help explain what you are trying to communicate. It identifies if there are additional meanings for the word, relevance rating, and gives you the option to refine length of the suggestions. Some other tools include a synonym suggestion, but this tool offers quite a rich number of options, and sometimes its worth the effort to play with a few options to find the perfect fit.
My final technology tip is to use the Read Aloud or Text to speech functionality, to read the text back to you, and listen to it as if you were the recipient.
Further to this list of communication technology accountants could use, if you find you’re regularly answering the same questions, it may be worth considering whether it will be beneficial to write something more. Maybe a newsletter article, or blog post, or add it to the frequently asked questions (FAQ) section of your website. In future, if the question is asked, you can direct existing clients to the answer on your website. Plus, potential new clients can find your website if they have similar questions. If they see you’re answering questions in a way, they understand they may be more inclined to in subscribe to engage your services.
In addition to technology, there is merit in investing in a proof-reader, copywriter or writing course to assist and improve your communication skills.
As a Chartered Accountant, I’ve have had the privilege of working with many editors, who’ve helped me improve my writing skills over the last decade while writing nine books. It’s important to be able to communicate with clients effectively, so they understand you and feel like they can trust and talk openly with you. Some of these tools are sure to be able to help you effortlessly improve your communication skills.